From a purely analytical standpoint, this weekend was a failure. Events didn’t go as planned, lakes were inaccessible, and few showed up to a reunion dinner. However, it could have been planned better, and Kiva and I still managed to make the most of it.
The first destination we tried to go to was the Grants Pass Balloon and Kite Festival. It had been intelligently advertised to us for about a month, showing up on Facebook and Instagram and drawing us in. What we found when we first arrived was a severe lack of balloons. Kites were flying (mainly large aquatic animals such as a whale kite, fish with what looked like Inuit designs kites, and a turtle that looked a lot like Squirt from Finding Nemo, but for copyright reasons was probably called ‘Squat’ or something). I wanted to go not only for myself, but to write an article for ActiveNorcal. (I ended up writing a piece about it, just not what I had originally intended). Hot air balloons have a way of capturing our imagination and blending it with our primitive desire to explore onward and indeed upward, and the bright colors appeal to our childish whimsy. So yes, I was disappointed that there were no balloons.
After further research, we discovered that some had been launched at sunset the night before or at sunrise the morning of. During the day, we learned, the wind conditions were ideal for kites but made balloon-piloting difficult. Bummer city, population us. With more research (google, facebook, reading pamphlets), however, we learned that the $5 entrance fee was going to three organizations that all were dedicated to helping at-risk youth in southern Oregon. $5 is really nothing, so it made us feel a little better. Besides, it was the first event of its kind in Grants Pass. We saw the vitriol of the comments on Facebook (“complete waste of time,” “very disappointed,” and in a very Trump-esque exclamation: “TERRIBLE!!!!!”), and felt bad for the organizers. So, in their defense: it was the first year, volunteers stood in the heat to guide unhappy attendees to park, and the money went to non-profits. In other words, if you are one of the ones who is filled with hatred and feels compelled to spew it all over Facebook: stuff it. If you have better ideas for next year, volunteer.
Okay, mini-rant over. The kites were actually kind of cool, and one of my friends who took her child had a great time and he got to make his own mini-kite.
The next event that didn’t quite go according to plan was our mini reunion. Again, to be fair we planned it very last minute. Plus, we did get to see our friend Christa and her boyfriend. We all met at the Black Sheep, a quintessentially Ashland restaurant (styled after an English Pub, replete with photos of the queen, shepherd’s pie, dark lighting and a red phone box so associated with the U.K.), which we found out was soon going out of business. We drank to it’s loss, as well as our reunion. We hadn’t seen Christa since we all worked together at the Ashland YMCA, and it was good to catch up with her. She is perpetually cheerful and warm, and although she says she is introverted, her personality can light up a room. Her boyfriend, whose name may or may not be Lee, is a waiter at the restaurant who is exuberantly cheerful and brings his nerdy joy anywhere he goes.
After drinks at the Black Sheep, we walked to Martinos where we had a few more drinks before calling it a night. The next day, we looked forward to doing tethered balloon rides. I will say, the Balloon Festival did a good job of keeping the public informed of updates via Facebook. At first, the location changed for the launch. Soon, we found out that the windy weather ended up being too dangerous for pilots to launch, so the flights were scrapped altogether. We wanted to come up with a plan b.
We ended up deciding to head south early. Kiva suggested we stop and pick up some essential supplies (meals for a lunch and dinner as well as Sierra Nevada beer) and head to one of the many lakes around the Mt. Shasta area and sleep in the back of the Jeep. This sounded good to me, we had brought a large piece of foam in case of sleeping in the back of the Jeep.
After stopping for supplies, we headed towards McCloud. The day was pleasantly warm, and the parking lot was full. We had unintentionally joined in with many families deciding to visit today. There was one family who was brave enough to jump into the icy McCloud River, and all of us who spectated their bravery cheered them on and took pictures. We decided to hold off on jumping in, deciding that we would swim in Medicine Lake, away from the throng of onlookers (although confident that it would not be any warmer). I discovered I did not have the right shoes, and although I had every intention of bringing hiking shoes, apparently today I would be hiking in my well-worn and well-traveled Toms.
Still, the trail is relatively easy. It is a little less than four miles round trip, and most of it is shaded and level. We hiked the easy distance to Middle McCloud Falls, and saw that this was also a popular location, for good reason. On every rock and log, people were perched. Some came to picnic, some came to suntan, but most came to take selfies. I didn’t blame them. Middle Falls is the most scenic of the three (arguably), especially since the trail lets walkers out right at the base of it. We also saw a couple donning wetsuits, and again we joined the onlookers who watched them descend to the base of the pool, and then crawl along the rocks until coming to a suitable place to jump in. Once in the water, they followed the rock walls until they were disappeared under the waterfall. We heard yelps of excitement, and we were tinged with jealousy as we knew they stood directly under and behind the cascading falls.
We continued the hike to upper falls, following McCloud River. The overlook here is different, rather than being able to directly access the water, we stood above the fall itself, reading about the natural and cultural history of the area that once was a popular fishing hole for indigenous populations.
After leaving from McCloud Falls, we headed northeast towards Medicine Lake. (Insert fun fact about Medicine Lake here). Along the way, we found the Jot Dean Ice Caves. Kiva and I had both been here separately, but never together. A few years back, I had gone with a few friends to Lava Beds National Monument, but wasn’t able to spend any times in the caves due to rolling my ankle after rock climbing in an indoor gym.
The Jot Dean Ice Caves are an interesting stop by the side of the road. Before arriving the caves, the forest is visibly scarred from the lava flow that created the caves. Dark, dried lava flows layer the forest floor, dotted with small holes and miniature crevices. Along the road, we only saw two or three scattered cars, headed in the other direction. We should have taken that as a kind of foreboding, but instead thought nothing of it.
We parked at the Ice Cave, and walked the less-than-four minute walk to the mouth of it. If it weren’t for the sign, it would have been easy to just drive by. From the road, it looks like the same, rolling and barren and beautiful landscape. When you walk up to the mouth, the ground seems to just give away as you realize you have been walking literally on top of it. We hiked down, donning our sweatshirts that were unnecessary in the heat, and into the cave. The rocks are loose, but instantly we could see all the ice forms. Long, thick icicles hung from the ceiling like stalactites, some even connecting to the floor of the cave. Small, bulbous ice forms seem to grow from the floor, like stalagmites that look like ice spirits in a Miyazaki film.
The cave is not the deepest, and can be explored in a very short time if people are being safe and cautious. Kiva and I talked about times we had been less than safe and cautious. There seems to be two different levels. On the ‘bottom’ level, the cave seems to descend into an impenetrable darkness. On my last trip, we dressed as professional as we could (meaning grabbed what rope we had in the car and wearing as much warm clothes as we could) and explored. One person was the anchor, staying up top and sitting with their feet against the rock, in case someone should slip. The others tied in, and slowly climbed down with minimal flashlights. We found that it is only about 6 feet down at the most, and it’s a small cavern that doesn’t go very far. On the ‘top’ level of the cave, I explored the smaller, sub caves. One of them seemed to be blocked off by icicles, and I took that as an omen to go no further.
We hiked out of the caves, and continued on to the lake. Around 15 minutes later, we found that we could go no further on the road. We were able to pass small patches of snow, but the small patches turned into a blanket and deep and we could no longer see road. We turned around.
We considered our options. We both had the camping bug, but also felt like it was a long day and we were pretty tired. So, we decided to call it a night. On the way back, though, we were going to pass Lake Britton so we decided that if we didn’t get to see Medicine Lake, we could at least cool off by jumping in this one. When we stopped at the boat dock, what we found was less than appealing.
We saw a family leaving in swimsuits, so a good sign. But when we changed into our skivvies and approached the water, we found that this arm of the lake was very stagnant, to say the least. The rocks were slick with moss and there was nothing quite akin to a beach. It would, perhaps, be a good place to go fishing (we did find a lost and abandoned faux worm) or launch a boat, but it was not a place to swim. We got back in the car, sweaty and disappointed.
And then we drove back, and took the time to treat ourselves. It may have been a weekend where nothing really went according to plan, but we still enjoyed it. We were able to go to the Grants Pass event and our money went to a good cause. We went to three waterfalls. We explored an ice cave. So, a natural finish to the trip was getting dinner at Red Robin and watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Also, if we are being honest, it made me think about my relationship with Kiva. This had been a weekend where virtually nothing went right. We had to keep changing our plans the entire time. And she was a trooper. We did get disheartened, but she never complained or became bitter or angry. It was a small adversity we had faced, but we had faced it together and made the most of it. It made me appreciate us.
Sorry, that got a little cheesy. I just think it’s an important aspect of this trip and something I won’t forget. I also feel like this is a very youtube-y way to end my piece, but if any of you have had experiences where plans have changed and you’ve had to adapt and made the most of it, let me know, I’d love to hear it.
Until next time, never stop adventuring.